Preparing for College

Drop this class or stick it out?

Question: My daughter has always been an outstanding student but is now thinking of dropping AP Calulus BC. She received an A on her first quarter grade, but recently flunked a test that threatens to bring her 7th semester grade down to a C+ or even a C. Should she withdraw (transcript would show a WP--that she withdrew while passing) or should she stick it out? She is applying to very competitive colleges.

In this case, we think your daughter should remain in the calculus class. College admission officials--even in elite schools--are quick to empathize with AP Calc BC students. If there's one dip in grades they're not likely to hold against a candidate, it's there. Perhaps your daughter can also have a chat with her teacher, if she hasn't done so already. Ask if there is any special project she can take on over the holiday break to keep her mark in the "B" range. She can explain very honestly that she fears this one slip-up might impact college verdicts. Some teachers will be responsive to this, others won't, but it may be worth a shot. (We actually once knew a high school physics teacher who let his college-bound seniors "borrow " points in the first semester. In other words, he would give an 89--the grade colleges would see--to a pupil who had only earned a 79, but then that student "owed" him 10 points. The 79 would become a 69 in the next marking period if the kid didn't hustle to up his grade! We don't mean that your daughter should approach her teacher with this gambit in mind, but the suggestion of some extra-credit assignment might work.)

Frankly, we feel that a "C" in a tough course like AP Calc looks far better than a WP. We do, however, sometimes recommend that a student drop a class, but that's only when the student's health--physical and/or mental--seems tied to continuing. In other words, if your daughter isn't miserable about the class--just about this term's grade--then tell her to stick with it. If it's any consolation, she's in good company. Lots of outstanding students get tripped up by calculus. Moreover, if her academic interests lean away from math (e.g., towards humanities or social sciences) then admission folks will be impressed that she took on this challenge in the first place.